Mexican brother, Mexican son

I have previously written about my Mexican family and the efforts we make to stay connected despite thousands of miles between us. Recently, I had yet another wonderful opportunity to reconnect, this time in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico’s two largest cities, which are both vibrant and fascinating with a rich history. On this occasion, my cousin Miky’s daughter Natalia, was getting married. Since I consider Miky a brother, as we lived together in 1973-74 in Oak Park, Michigan, when we attended 9th grade together, despite having recently returned from Israel, we certainly did not want to miss Natalia’s wedding. In fact, my wife and I also flew my son in from Israel, where he is attending college, so he could attend the wedding. To further cement the family bonds, I convinced my brother and sister to bring their families to the wedding as well, as neither had been to Mexico to see our family there in a long time.

There are many reasons why I consider Miky as a brother. Not only did we live and go to school together for a year, but we share many attributes. We both work for ourselves and seek to make our own way in the world. In addition, we both prioritize family connections. We married the same year (1982) and both continue to have happy and fulfilling marriages as we approach our 35th anniversaries. As you can see below, my wife and many others also think that Miky and I look a lot like each other.

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Mi hermano Miky

Of course, the wedding was beautiful and so much joy was shared by those in attendance. In fact, at one point during the party, my wife turned to me and said,

“Mexican people are the nicest people I know.”

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Father/daughter dance: Miky & Natalia

While we could have returned home after the wedding, we had another important stop to make in Mexico. In 2008, Miky and his wife Alma asked my wife and I if they could send their son Miguel to live with us for a year and attend 8th grade in our local middle school. We were glad to do so and continue what is now a 3 generation tradition of having a Mexican family member live with one of our family members (Miky’s Aunt Nitchy lived with my mother for 2 years as teens). Now, Miguel is on the verge of finishing his undergraduate degree at the Panamerican University in Guadalajara and we wanted to see his life in Guadalajara.

It was well worth the extra time and effort to visit Miguel in Guadalajara. Not only did we enjoy Guadalajara, with side trips to Tequila (yes, that’s where they make it) and Tlaquepaque (a beautiful artisan town), but more importantly, we saw where and how Miguel lives and goes to school. We got to know his lovely and charming girlfriend Vanessa, and it warmed our hearts to see how he has grown into a truly fine young man with a bright future ahead of him.

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Miguel with his second mother, my wife Sheryl

On the last evening of our stay in Guadalajara, the breaking news popped up on our phones that the U.S. had bombed a Syrian air base, as we were going out to dinner with Miguel. Sheryl and I expressed our fears of how this bombing could potentially unravel into World War 3, if Russia and Iran reacted violently. Listening with a son’s concern, Miguel said, “you can always come to stay with us in Mexico where you will be safe.”

My wife and I were deeply touched by Miguel’s genuine offer in many ways. First, he truly understands that we are family in the deepest way. We will always be there for each other to protect each other. In addition, perhaps without intending to make a political statement, he made a very profound one. With all the anti-Mexican bias coming out of the White House, thinking about the possibility that we might actually be safer and better protected in Mexico was both ironic and heartwarming.

We will continue to maintain our strong family bonds with my Mexican family. After all, with a Mexican brother and a Mexican son, how could I do otherwise?

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Diaspora Gathering

My wife and I just returned from spending over 2 weeks in Israel. This trip was not your typical tourist trip. In fact, with the exception of one night in Mitzpe Ramon, home to the gigantic and beautiful Ramon Craterwe spent every other night staying with family and friends.

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Sculpture overlooking the Ramon Crater

Our son, Josh, is in his second year of college at the TechnionIsrael’s Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and this was our first opportunity to visit him there. He plays hockey with the Haifa Hawks, and coincidentally, the first thing we did on our arrival was watch him play hockey.

Josh also led us on a walk on  the beach of the last Arabic town on the Israeli Mediterranean, Jisr al Zarkawhere beauty, history and poverty are all intertwined.

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Fisherman pulling in their net on the beach at Jisr al Zarka

In addition, my mother and her husband are spending the winter in Netanya, where they have spent every winter except last year for the past 12 years, and we spent most of our nights with them. It was a pleasure to spend quality time with them in the place that has become their home away from home.

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My mother Rachel and her husband Peter

As I reflect back on what was primarily a visiting trip, I realize that, like most Jews, while my family is spread around the world in what is known as the diaspora, as they fled oppression in Europe prior to the Holocaust, Israel is the place where some of the family with whom I am closest as well as childhood and college friends, have returned and made a life for themselves.

Part of my family fled Europe, but were not allowed into the United States to join the rest of their family in the 1930s, so they settled in Mexico. One of my Mexican cousins, Isaac (Pelon) Leventhal, immigrated to Israel when he was 18 years old in the early 1970s. After meeting him in Mexico City at his sister’s wedding just before he emigrated, I have visited him numerous times in Israel from 1976 through this most recent trip. As he and I have grown older, we have married and had children, and now he and his lovely wife Eli, have 8 grandchildren. Our son has had the opportunity to get to know these cousins better while he studies in Israel, and we were able to visit all of their homes and families during our stay. The warmth of my Israeli family will stay with me for the rest of my life even though time and distance separates us.

I even had the opportunity to visit friends on Kibbutz Ein Gev, where I volunteered during the winter of 1979-80, while my cousins Pelon & Eli lived there. Coincidentally, a friend from England, whom I volunteered with so many years ago, was visiting the kibbutz at the same time we were there and we had a small reunion with our friend and kibbutznik Uzi.

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At the end of our trip, we traveled to Mevaseret, a suburb of Jerusalem to stay with an old college friend, Richard and his lovely wife Michal. They led us on a beautiful hike on Har Eitan, after which we traveled into the city of Jerusalem to visit an old childhood friend, Galia, and her husband Roni for lunch.

It is truly an understatement to describe Israel as one of the most controversial nations in the world. Almost everyone has strong feelings about it, both positive and negative, and while I love that Israel has provided refuge for millions of Jews, including family and friends, it saddens me that Israel has been unable to resolve its generations old conflict with its Palestinian neighbors.

Due to my love of Israel and hope for its survival as a just, peaceful and democratic state, I have taken on a leadership role in advocating for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by becoming Chair of the Madison chapter of J Street, which advocates for a two state solution to resolve the conflict. My advocacy is quite public so both my family and friends in Israel are quite aware of my positions, most of whom do not agree with me.

Despite our political disagreements, our love for each other is not diminished. In fact, my choice to repeatedly visit family and friends in Israel to maintain our relationships and better understand their lives there serves to enhance our relationship. On a few occasions during our recent trip, both friends and family were clear that they disagreed with my positions, but I often successfully found small, but important points where we did have common ground. Equally important, our disagreements never interfered with our ability to have warm and loving relationships.

As I reflect back on how my friends, family and I can agree to disagree, and not let that poison our relationships, I hope that the lessons I learned in Israel can be applied to the often poisonous political conflict in the US. After all, when friends and family can love each other despite their disagreements, one realizes that one warm hug can overcome virtually any political dispute.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Birthday Orchids

One of my hobbies is growing houseplants. In addition to their beauty, they help keep our indoor air clean and fresh all year long, even through a long winter of closed windows. Over 20 years ago, I started raising orchids. Orchids are not only extraordinarily beautiful, but they pose significant challenges in getting them to rebloom. They need special fertilizer since they are epiphytes with aerial roots that do not obtain nutrition from the soil, so they are planted in bark to imitate their natural habitat of growing on the bark of trees in the jungle. Of course, as with all plants, finding the right location for the proper amount of sunshine is also very important.

When our son was born 19 years ago, we bought an orchid to celebrate and put it in his bedroom. The next year, that orchid rebloomed, and I realized that Josh’s bedroom was an ideal location to grow orchids. Sure enough, at least one orchid has rebloomed during Josh’s birthday for all 19 of his birthdays.

Here are the orchids blooming in his room on his 19th birthday.

My wife, Sheryl, does not believe in coincidences, and in this case, I agree that it is no coincidence that orchids have bloomed in his bedroom every year on Josh’s birthday. Sure, I take good care of my orchids. But, Josh has also bloomed every year as he has grown and matured into a young adult studying abroad at the Technion in Haifa, whom we and many others admire, not only for his many talents and accomplishments, but for the caring attitude and empathy which pervades the way he sees the world and interacts in it. So, even though he is far away this year on his birthday, his spirit remains a part of his bedroom, and I believe that contributes to the continued annual reblooming of his bedroom’s orchids.

When parents raise their children, they always hope for the best, but ultimately, as their children become adults, they must acknowledge that their now adult children must make their own choices about how to live their lives. We raised Josh as a critical thinker in the hope  that he would make good choices. Now, on his 19th birthday, we receive much joy from thousands of miles away as we watch him make good choices living and learning in a foreign land. We wish him many more years of successfully navigating life through making good choices as an independent adult while I continue to care for the orchids in his bedroom so that they rebloom every year on his birthday, as a beautiful reminder of our beautiful son.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Family: the Building Block for Healthy Communities

The rapid pace of our increasingly information based world continues to challenge society’s ability to build and sustain healthy and viable communities.  In both my personal and professional life, I strive to build and enhance many communities, including in my neighborhood, as I wrote about previously. Healthy neighborhoods, of course, start with healthy and supportive families.  From an institutional basis, there are great programs designed to support healthy families including Healthy Families America

a program of PCA America, strives to provide all expectant and new parents with the opportunity to receive the education and support they need at the time their baby is born.

Prevent Child Abuse America, founded in 1972 in Chicago, works to ensure the healthy development of children nationwide. The organization promotes that vision through a network of chapters in 50 states and nearl 600 Healthy Families America home visiting sites in 39 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Commonwealth of the Marianas, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and Canada. A major organizational focus is to advocate for the existence of a national policy framework and strategy for children and families while promoting evidence-based practices that prevent abuse and neglect from ever occurring.

Of course, there are many other wonderful public and private programs that strive to support and nurture healthy families.  Indeed, even the World Bank recognizes that healthy children lead to healthy economies. But these programs cannot replace the individual effort needed to sustain healthy families.

My in-laws, Sandy and Gloria Spitzer, have gone to great lengths to keep their far flung family connected with each other.  While they remain based in their hometown of St. Louis, their children are spread from coast to coast in 4 cities, Boston, Madison, St. Louis and Irvine, California.  Their 8 grandchildren, most of whom are adults now, are similarly spread out, adding an additional state, New York, into the mix.  They are also blessed with a great grandchild in California.  When they grew up, all of their siblings and first cousins remained in St. Louis, so although it took some effort to convene family gatherings, it was not as difficult as it is in today’s world.

To their credit, they formed a Family Foundation, which has two purposes.  First, they have set aside sufficient funds for the entire family (all 4 generations) to gather on an annual basis. This year, we gathered had a lovely gathering that allowed us to celebrate the New Year together, including a rousing game of canasta.

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The second purpose of the Foundation is to make charitable gifts to maintain my in-laws’ long standing dedication to tzedakah (Hebrew for charity, but literally: “righteousness” or “justice”).  In order to insure family unity and collaboration after my in-laws pass away, their family foundation will pass onto their 4 children, who will be required to hold a family meeting once a year to determine which donations the Foundation will make.  Thus, my in-laws have wisely used estate planning both to keep their family together, and to continue their family’s righteous charity through tzedakah.

I am truly blessed to be a welcome part of my wife’s family for over 31 years.  I look forward to many more years of building community with the Spitzer family.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.